Investigative reporters spend months on story basics, building data and documents. But without the right sources, even the most telling facts can read a bit, well, boring.
With that in mind, four battle-tested investigative reporters spoke at the 2014 IRE Conference on the topic of building trust with sources. Ellen Gabler, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Tony Kovaleski, of NBC Bay Area; and Andres Cediel, who produced the recent documentary “Rape in the Fields,” used their own experiences to discuss strategies for getting people to talk.
Kovaleski stressed the importance of building a relationship by meeting as many times as it takes to get the source on the record.
In many cases, the source-reporter relationship is just beginning when a source agrees to participate in a story. Gabler, who discussed her recent work on a project to expose flaws in newborn screening, earned the confidence of her sources by staying diligent in her reporting.
Cediel and his team knew it would be difficult to find outspoken sources for “Rape in the Fields.” They sought sexually abused, Spanish-speaking women who typically were in the country illegally. Cediel’s extreme but vitally important example reminds us to consider how our stories will affect the people within them.